ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward analyses the latest developments
China has said it will no longer recognise the British National (Overseas) passport, the travel document being offered to Hong Kong residents as a way into the UK.
The announcement comes after the UK government said it would allow millions of Hong Kongers the chance to live and work in the country and eventually gain citizenship.
The BNO passport was first offered to people living in the former colony ahead of the 1997 handover to China. But applications for the visa will reopen on Sunday as thousands look to flee the city amid clashes between pro-democracy campaigners and the Hong Kong and Chinese government.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing: “The British side’s attempt to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens has completely changed the nature of the two sides’ original understanding of BNO (British National Overseas).
“This move seriously infringes on China’s sovereignty, grossly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and seriously violates international law and the basic norms of international relations.
“China will no longer recognize the so-called BNO passport as a travel document and proof of identity starting from January 31, and reserves the right to take further measures.”
Under the plan, as many as 5.4 million Hong Kong residents could be eligible to live and work in the UK for five years before applying for citizenship.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997. In the 1984 Sino-British Declaration, China agreed to maintain the city's separate way of life (including legal and political systems) for 50 years after the handover.
But pro-democracy campaigners say Beijing violated this commitment by imposing a new national security law last year, after months of violence between protesters and police.
The law criminalises any act of secession (breaking away from the country), subversion (undermining the authority of the government), terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BNOs to live, work and make their home in our country.
“In doing so we have honoured our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy – values both the UK and Hong Kong hold dear.”
When the BNO passport was first made available in the 1990s, it only offered document holders the right to visit for six months with no right to work or become a citizen.